Empathy, Feeling Nostalgic and Coming to Terms with Reality

It’s been a week since the world, sporting and otherwise, was shocked by the sudden deaths of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven other persons, including parents and their children, in a horrific helicopter crash.  Like many, I was deeply affected by the incident in a way that I didn’t expect, especially for people I did not know personally.

I appreciate basketball but I would never say that I am a basketball fan, especially not in the way that my father and sister who not only love basketball but are die-hard LA Lakers and Kobe Bryant fans love the game.  I, however, followed his life outside of sports, like I did with hundreds of other celebrities, from going to prom with Brandy, to his marriage to Vanessa and his relationship with his daughters.  I admired his obvious talent, the numerous comparisons to Michael Jordan, his dedication to the game and sat by on many a Christmas day while my sister and cousins engaged in boisterous debate about Kobe versus Lebron, Kobe versus MJ and generally basketball.  I was saddened and confused when he was accused of rape and at times wondered how I really felt about him.  To me, he was a polarising figure to some and an icon to many more.  I saw him as one of the greats who, after retirement, became more involved in philanthropy, film (winning an Oscar) and what is now known as a #girldad and thought, ok, this is nice.

I recognise, as so many of us do, that death is inevitable.  It is the one part of life that we cannot escape.  If we are religious, we believe that if we live a good life in line with the doctrines we are raised to follow, we go to heaven.  Whether we are religious or not, we believe that we need to live a good life while we are on earth and we pray and/or hope that our death will not come tragically.  In a perfect world, the people we love die peacefully in their beds at 101 having lived a full life and that’s that.

When famous people die, it is not uncommon to see persons scoff at fans or at admirers’ grief or sadness.  The latter are asked, “What did this person do for you?” or “Why do you feel so upset about someone you never met?”  In the case of the helicopter crash on January 26th, there are persons who asked, “What about the other persons who perished, who left behind mourning families and will never be the same?”  To me, the answer is clear.  Everyone who was related to those who died will never be the same.  They will never be able to interact with their loved ones again.  They will have to find some way to live their lives.  They may be forever changed.  They may cry for years to come, have to go to therapy, avoid social media or people in general.  The thing is, unless we have experienced it, we do not know.  Let people mourn how they wish.

As a mere onlooker who is completely unrelated but for watching news stories on television or social media or reading a newspaper or magazine, you can only feel sympathy or empathy for such a tragedy.  That’s how I felt when I learnt that other young ladies lost their lives, that children no longer have parents, that a husband no longer has a wife.  I cannot begin to imagine what life has been like for the past few days for any of the families.  When it comes to Kobe and Gianna, we have a public figure and his daughter who became public by proxy, a father and daughter whose lives were on show because of who he was.  Hundreds, perhaps thousands of images and videos exist of two people who looked alike, walked similarly and who were extremely talented athletes.  As the viewing public, we saw those images often and those of us who “grew up with Kobe” saw even more of him.  We can remember watching him play, the news of when his children were born, his relationship with his wife, his coaching of Gianna’s basketball team, her plans to play in the WNBA, our first pair of Kobe sneakers and his good and bad behaviour on and off the court.  We remember when he made us happy.  This is the difference between the famous and not famous.   

Therefore, it is ok to feel sad and even cry as I did, when I learnt about the crash.  I thought of Vanessa Bryant, a public figure who now has to raise three daughters as a widow and someone who lost a child in one of the worst ways anyone could imagine.  I felt as though I could identify with her because we are close in age and in spite of being famous, I simply understand the love of family.  I thought of my own family, my own #girldad and could not and still cannot bear to imagine what she must be feeling.  All in all, we can feel sad at the loss of people we did not know and for people we “knew”.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

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